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CRIME

France’s Benzema on trial over sextape blackmail plot

Real Madrid and France footballer Karim Benzema goes on trial on Wednesday accused of complicity in the attempted blackmail of former international teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case known as l'affaire de la sextape (the sextape case).

Karim Benzema is on trial over his involvement in a sextape blackmail plot.
Karim Benzema is on trial over his involvement in a sextape blackmail plot. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Benzema, 33, is suspected of helping a group of alleged blackmailers approach Valbuena in an attempt to extort money. Four other men are also on trial.

The case cost both Benzema and 37-year-old Valbuena their places in the French national team, though Benzema was restored to the squad for this year’s European Championship.

The case centres on the role that Benzema is suspected of playing in the murky affair six years ago, which started when Valbuena handed his smartphone to Axel Angot, a man connected to footballing circles in the southern port city of Marseille, with the request to transfer its contents to a new device.

Angot, now on trial for breach of trust, came across sexually explicit footage on the phone involving Valbuena.

Prosecutors says he then explored ways – together with a friend, Mustapha Zouaoui – to approach Valbuena and threaten publication of the footage unless he paid them.

Valbuena received several calls in June 2015 warning of the potential exposure of the footage, which he reported to police.

What followed is an imbroglio involving several shadowy middlemen, one of whom turned out to be an undercover agent called “Luka” placed by police who were trying to get proof before taking action against the protagonists.

Eventually the presumed blackmailers went to one of Benzema’s old friends, Karim Zenati, who prosecutors say enlisted Benzema’s help to reach Valbuena.

On Oct 6, 2015, Benzema went to see Valbuena in his room at the French national team’s training centre at Clairefontaine, west of Paris.

He told his teammate that he could introduce him to a “trustworthy person” to help him “manage” the possible publication of a compromising video.

In what Benzema later claimed was an attempt to help his teammate out of a difficult situation, he told him: “Be careful, ‘Math’, these are very, very heavy criminals.”

Benzema then called his childhood friend Karim Zenati, who was by then acting as an intermediary for the alleged blackmailers, and told him in a conversation wiretapped by police: “He’s not taking us seriously.”

Prosecutors say that the word “us” proves that Benzema saw himself as part of the blackmail scheme.

Valbuena said later that the conversation left him with the feeling that he was “being played for a fool”.

“If he doesn’t want us to handle this for him, he’ll have to deal with the piranhas,” Zenati said, claiming later that all he wanted to do was alert Valbuena to the existence of the video.

Benzema replied that “they will piss on him”, and in a subsequent conversation referred to Valbuena with a derogatory term for a homosexual, which he said later was meant “in a friendly way”.

The maximum sentence for complicity in attempted blackmail is five years in prison and a fine of €70,000.

Benzema has argued that the undercover police officer used dishonest methods to draw him into the affair.

The sextape case caused Benzema to be exiled from France’s national football team for years – a decision he called ‘racist’.

France coach Didier Deschamps said this month that “he’s no longer the same person, he’s matured”.

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POLICE

France charges teen over ‘imminent terror attack’ plot

French authorities have charged an 18-year-old man on suspicion of planning an imminent terror attack with a knife in the name of Islamic State (IS) jihadists, a judicial source said on Wednesday.

France charges teen over 'imminent terror attack' plot

Initial investigations indicated that he planned to carry out a terror attack “in the name of IS, to which he had pledged allegiance,” said the source, who asked not to be named, adding that the man had been detained in the Drome region of southeast France and charged in Paris.

The source added that the man had been detained in the Drome region of southeast France and charged in Paris.

The man, from a Muslim family, had adopted extremist views and was considered a threat, sparking France’s anti-terror prosecutors office (PNAT) to open an investigation on May 19, a source close to the case said.

Police arrested him on Friday and a video of him swearing allegiance to IS was found in his possession.

The source did not say whom he was planning to target in the attack or in which location.

France saw a wave of jihadist attacks from 2015 that left hundreds dead and pushed the country to its highest level of security alert.

There has been no repeat of a mass atrocity in the last years, but there have been several deadly attacks carried out by lone individuals

More to follow

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